"You're not paying attention."
"Don't you know where you put your lunch money?"
"Don't interrupt."Can you imagine what it would be like to hear people talk to you this way every single day? If you can imagine it, or if it sounds just like what you're used to hearing, then you know what it's like to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This condition is also sometimes known as AD/HD for short.
Kids who have AD/HD are not "bad," "lazy," or "stupid." They have a behavior disorder that means they may have problems paying attention or have trouble sitting still in their seats. They can also act on impulse - this means doing things without thinking about them first. Kids with AD/HD may spend a lot of time in the principal's office. They might change their friends a lot.
Who Gets AD/HD?
On average, five out of 100 kids have AD/HD. That means that if your school has 500 kids, 25 may have AD/HD - that's like one whole class! Kids who have AD/HD usually start having problems before they are 7 years old. Sometimes the problems begin when they start going to school. Boys have AD/HD more often than girls, but no one knows why.
In fact, no one is sure why anyone has AD/HD, although scientists and doctors think that it probably has to do with different levels of brain activity. No one gets AD/HD on purpose, so it isn't ever anyone's fault. And AD/HD isn't contagious - you can't catch it from someone like the flu.
A kid might have a bigger chance of developing AD/HD if one of his relatives already has AD/HD, or another type of behavior problem.
What Are Signs of AD/HD?
AD/HD can come out in different ways, depending on who has it. All kids with AD/HD have problems concentrating and paying attention. Some kids with AD/HD might also have trouble sitting still in class and waiting for their turn. They might yell out the answers before other kids have a chance to raise their hands. Sometimes they can be disorganized, distracted, or forgetful. They might lose things and have trouble finishing assignments. They may wiggle around in their seats, move around a lot, talk too much, or interrupt other people's conversations.
Keep in mind, though, that just because you do some of these things from time to time doesn't mean you have AD/HD.
Checking It Out
When parents and teachers suspect that a child has AD/HD, the first step is to visit the doctor. He or she may then refer the kid to a specialist like a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist who has experience in treating AD/HD and other kinds of behavior problems. Part of the doctor's job is to check for other illnesses that look like AD/HD but need different kinds of treatment.
What Happens When a Kid Is Diagnosed With AD/HD?
Once the doctor decides that a kid has AD/HD, then the doctor, parents, and teachers begin to work together to find out the best way to help. Sometimes this means starting one of the medicines used to treat AD/HD, deciding how much medicine is needed, and when to give it. Often, children with AD/HD need to take their medicine more than once a day, so they may visit the nurse at lunch for a pill.
But children who have AD/HD need more than just medicine. They also need help learning how to change the way they act. Some kids with AD/HD can learn to do this by using relaxation therapy or behavioral therapy.
In relaxation therapy, counselors teach kids how to relax and stay calm by doing deep-breathing exercises and relaxing different muscle groups.
Behavioral therapy helps kids with AD/HD by teaching them to set goals for themselves and by using rewards to help them reach those goals. Teachers can give a kid with AD/HD a reward for sitting still in class, for example. And parents can do the same thing at home, by rewarding their children for paying attention, completing their chores, or keeping track of their things. Kids with AD/HD need extra help in learning how to do many things like this, jobs you may find easy.
Kids who have AD/HD can become depressed or anxious. So for many kids with AD/HD, the key to success is not only following the doctor's treatments, but having good friendships with other kids.
Many kids with AD/HD find that their AD/HD symptoms get better as they get older. Adults with AD/HD can have happy lives, and they can be very successful in whatever they decide to do.
Updated and reviewed by: Douglas Tynan, PhD, ABPP
Date reviewed: August 2001
Source: KidsHealth www.KidsHealth.com is a project of The Nemours Foundation which is dedicated to improving the health and spirit of children. Today, as part of its continuing mission, the Foundation supports the operation of a number of renowned children's health facilities throughout the nation, including the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Nemours Children's Clinics throughout Florida. Visit The Nemours Foundation to find out more about them and its health facilities for children http://www.nemours.org/no/